It’s the 34th Edition of Brussels Brief* and we are back with a tale of woeful diplomacy, a new superstar 'president' for the EU and kebabs.
‘Cristiano Ronaldo’ of the Eurozone. That is what the future President of the Eurogroup of 19 finance ministers of the Eurozone is being dubbed as. Portuguese Finance minister Mario Centeno replaced the incumbent president, the Dutch finance minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem in two rounds of voting beating out Luxembourg, Slovakia, and Latvia for the job. The election of Centeno, who will be holding the post for a total of 2.5 years, marks, therefore, a shift of the powerful group towards the south. This is all the more palpable considering Portugal was one of the countries that were forced into a bailout during the economic crisis. In an even weirder turn, a man that was once compared to Eurogroup enfant terrible Yanis Varoufakis and is now a member of a freakishly successful left-wing government will now be at the helm of the establishment in Europe. It marks a shift in Portugal’s fortunes as the country as they come out of the economic crisis with ascendance and many of its diplomats areappointed into prestigious posts worldwide. Yet whether he will the suitable ‘mediator’to guide the Eurozone through the next years is a matter of debate as he will see major reforms being pushed forward by the Juncker Commission, starting as from right about now. [Bloomberg, EUobserver, Politico Europe, El Pais, Eurotopics]
Paradise lost. Following the Paradise papers scandal which showed how multinational corporations and wealthy individuals have been hiding fortunes in small jurisdictions around the world, the EU and the Commissioner for financial and tax affairs Pierre Moscovici especially, have been eager to show progress on combating tax avoidance. The EU’s new blacklist of 17 tax havens showcases the art of political compromise rather than an objective standard, and with no EU members included. The UK argued for a limited list as many UK territories have benefitted from hosting shell corporations and accounts of wealthy individuals, contrasted with France which has been taking a hardline on the issue. But an additional 47 territories, on a so-called grey list, are under extra scrutiny and have to deliver on commitments to improve cooperation and transparency. In times of public demand for fairness, lacking tax revenues, high youth unemployment, and concurrent sky-high corporate profits, this is a first good step on a long road to regain paradise. [The Guardian, Sky News, Euractiv]
DUPed. The 8 June elections caused May to lose her parliamentary majority, essentially obliging her to strike a deal with the DUP, Northern Ireland’s Unionist party par excellence. Fast-forward almost 6 months, and the party that saved her Premiership is the one that ‘may’ oust her from power and scupper the Brexit process itself. Last week we mentioned that Brexit was all about the Irish border, and it seems that the UK government took our advice to heart ahead of the EU-imposed deadlineon Tuesday. Reports upon Theresa May’s arrival in Brussels announced that not only would there be a soft border, but that ‘continued regulatory alignment’ would exist between Ireland and NI. Cue leaders of Scotland, Wales, and even the Mayor of London coming out in favour of a differentiated solution for their region, i.e. the de facto remaining within the single market and customs union that was appearing to be the case for NI. Enter the DUP, who during lunch came out like a band of brothers/sisters declaring with certainty that there would not be any ‘regulatory divergence’ between NI and the UK leaving the EU. Mrs. May’s extraordinary lunch thus ended with an exasperated 3-minute press conference She now has until Friday to get her house organised in order to save her premiership and the whole Brexit process from collapsing. Cue Ed Miliband… [Reuters, New York Times, Evening Standard, Politico Europe, Eurotopics]
Sedition, extradition, and protest. As Spain continues its chase to have former Catalan President Puigdemont and former four ministers arrested for rebellion, the 5 Catalan officials arrived in Brussels for an extradition hearing scheduled on Monday. A closed-door session will take place with a judge getting brief (or convinced?) from both sides of the argument. The judge will announce his decision on whether or not to grant a European arrest warrant for the former Catalan President on 14 December, a decision that is likely to affect the scheduled regional elections on 21 December. In a show of support, 20,000 Catalan and Catalan-supporters were scheduled to rally near the EU headquarters today. [Expatica, The Bulletin]
The young Turks. The role of Muslims in European societies has been a growing topic in political discourse in recent decades and if current projections are to be believed the debate will only continue. In some countries, the number of Muslims are expected to triple, albeit from a low European average of just 4.9% today. But demographics are hard to predict as the sudden shifts in recent years have shown. But in an aging continent where the median age is now 43 the fact that the average Muslim woman has one more child than other European women also helps explain the trend. In fact, this might just be what Europe needs as it will, in the future, have fewer young people in the workforce and more elderly in need of social services. [The Guardian, Rew Research Center, Quartz]
Not all that glitters is gold. As Trump’s tax plans increasingly take center-stage on the US’s national agenda, Europe comes sweeping in as a real-life example of what things could turn out to look like for Americans. Tax cuts are likely to induce considerable inflows of foreign capital, which will, of course, generate meaningful income, for foreigners that is. Paul Krugman claims that other than Ireland, the evident case studies are the Eastern European states that have attracted capital inflows from Western Europe. They have become attractive because of their low corporate tax rates but also because of their renown low wages. Without a doubt, this has helped GDP but the national income has lagged behind because the growth has enriched the foreign investors instead. [The New York Times]
Go Johnny go, go! One of France’s greatest legends in the history of its own music has died; Johnny Hallyday passed away at the age of 74 on Wednesday, 6 December. He won the French over, not as well as he did the politicians, who like Charles de Gaulle, claimed him to be a prodigy of American imperialism. In his lifetime, Johnny recorded 1,000 songs, sold over 100 million CDs (yes, back when CDs were actually a thing) and performed over 100 live tours. His greatest tragedy, says John Lichfield, is that the recognition he deserved but never fully received internationally would have been granted to him had he taken inspiration from Edith Piaf instead of rocking an imposter version of the iconic Elvis Presley. [The Guardian]
🔊 Podcast of the Week. Blueprint for armageddon. Want to hear how one of the most destructive and transformative wars the world has ever seen was started. It was all down to the actions of one man, Gavrilo Princep and his ‘serendipitous’ assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Dan Carlin is here to take you through what happened next... [Hardcore History]
📺 GIF of the Week
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